Alanna: The First Adventure
Tamora Pierce's Alanna; Image via Wikipedia

Alan is a classic, with a history of use stretching back centuries. But this feminine form feels surprisingly modern.

Thanks to Kerry for suggesting her daughter’s name, Alanna, as our Baby Name of the Day.

Not every feminine form of a masculine moniker has deep roots. Joseph may have been around since Biblical times, but Josephine wasn’t well-known until Napoleon‘s bride brought the name to international attention. Samantha is a twentieth-century innovation.

Alanna falls somewhere in between. Adding in spelling variants Alana and Alannah, she’s still relatively novel. I can’t find her much before the twentieth century. Alana – the most popular of the three – debuted in the US Top 1000 in 1944. Alanna first appears three decades later, in 1974. Alannah first arrived in 1990, but then quickly disappeared, only to re-appear in 2007.

All of this makes Alanna elusive compared to the far steadier Alan. He first surfaces in the ninth century as a Duke of Brittany, and came to England with the Norman invasion. Alan charted in the Top 100 from 1938 through 1971. That makes him something of a dad name today – or even older, since some of the most famous bearers are of an age to be grandfathers now. There’s actor Alan Alda – born Alphonso – and astronaut Alan Shepard. He’s gentle and restrained, but not as a soft as many a modern moniker.

He’s also the logical place to start looking for a meaning for Alanna, but unfortunately, that’s not clear. Possibilities include:

  • Handsome
  • Rock
  • Deer

It could also connect to the name of a tribe – the Alans or the Alani – nomads who appear in the historical record from the early first century into the early middle ages.

But there are several arguments that Alanna is an independent name, unrelated to Alan:

  • The Irish term of endearment a leanbh can be the source of Alanna – and likely explains her popularity in Ireland.
  • The French masculine spelling is Alain. Some connect Alanna to Alaina – and so to Elaine and Elena and a host of similar names.
  • There’s also a Hawaiian word meaning awakening that has inspired greater use of the name – she charts in that state’s Top 100.

So all the evidence suggests that Alanna is truly a modern name, but she doesn’t feel that way. Maybe that’s because of Tamora Pierce’s heroine Alanna of Trebond, a well-born young lady in a vaguely medieval fantasy world where girls most certainly do not become knights. So Alanna masquerades as Alan and goes on a series of adventures.

Other famous Alannas include:

  • 80s pop stars The Thompson Twins consisted of future husband and wife Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie.
  • Canadian songstress Alanna Myles scored a mega-hit and a Grammy – for her 1989 single “Black Velvet.”
  • Alana de la Garza has appeared in both the Law & Order and CSI franchises.
  • Model-actress Alana Hamilton Stewart is the former wife of rock star Rod Stewart, as well as actor George Hamilton.

There are plenty of other Alannas, fictional and real, from a minor character on That’s So Raven to several accomplished athletes.

Overall, Alanna is something of surprise. She feels appropriate for a medieval heroine, though she’s clearly more modern. And her many possible origins and meanings mean that she’s a shapeshifter, fitting families from nearly any background. If you’re looking for a name that feels familiar while remaining relatively uncommon, Alanna is a contender.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. When my daughter was born in 2018, we named her Alana. We debated spellings, but our research said this was the most traditional Scottish spelling. (Coupled with the fact that we chose it because Alan is a family name, so Alana was as close as we were going to get for a baby girl!) She is both traditional and modern 🙂